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Family Trip Tips!

At the end of the last blog I said I’d share a story about my time with the Hadzabe while in Tanzania. However, I’ve decided to take a moment to share a few tips that came out of my most recent trip instead.


A week ago my family and I went on our first ever “Family Vacation”. This wasn’t a trip to our parents or siblings’ homes; it was away from the west coast and just the three of us. Where did we choose for our first amazing trip? Wisconsin. That’s right, the Dairy State.



As you may know, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many great places in my life. Wisconsin, however isn’t a spot that I would have ever considered traveling to for fun. I grew up in Wisconsin, in a little town called Manitowoc. I was there from 4th grade through the beginning of 11th grade and have the great fortune to have remained friends with four of my best friends from that time and kept in contact with many others. I was your typical mid-west kid, could tell you what cow produced what kind of milk (Holsteins are mass producers but Jersey and Guernsey are great for cream and rich milk). The state cheese? Brick.


So, when one of my best friends invited us to celebrate her recent wedding, I was in and my husband was graciously on-board! We briefly considered Hawaii as a different option (who knew it cost the same to go to WI as HI this time of year??), but the draw to show my family where I grew up was just too much. I wanted them to experience the true Wisconsin that I knew.


DISCLAIMER: I’m going to focus on some negatives of the trip below. I want to put up front that we had a GREAT time overall. It was amazing to have my family see where I grew up and to experience some of the things that made my time there fun. However, I want to outline some of the areas where I could have put more effort in order to make the trip even better, and more comfortable, for my family.


This blog is partially about travel tips, so let’s get some out on the table.


As a traveler, I try to follow a few standard rules:

1. Don’t over-book yourself, leave time to appreciate the small stuff

2. Do your research ahead of time, know what you are getting into with your respective choices

3. Ensure that you attend the areas cultural activities, not just the big ticket items

4. Decide your level of travel accommodations, travel in comfort for your location


So, what did I immediately do when planning this trip? I violated every single one of my rules. That’s right, I was so excited and overwhelmed by the idea of showing my family the parts of Wisconsin that I loved as a kid that I put on blinders.


I’ve added our trip schedule below as an example. I’ve gone ahead and added some comments about the different activities so that if you visit WI in the future, you’ll have notes from an experienced traveler to the area.


Day 1: Get up at 3:00 am for a 5:30 am flight to WI (did I mention we have a 4 year old?):

· Upon landing we immediately headed to a wedding reception that would go into the night. (I had planned 1.5 hours of naps but we were delayed at the airport – no one’s fault there was a lightening storm, I didn’t plan well)


· The amazing thing here was how wonderful the reception was. AND, my husband and son saw lightening bugs (otherwise known as fireflies) for the first time! It was hilarious to see them running through the dark chasing them. Too much fun.


Day 2: Attend countries largest Italian festival – Festa Italiana in Milwaukee:

· We didn’t plan out the schedule and what acts we wanted to see. Tired 4 year old meant that we had a lot of down time in the day and missed the night concerts.

· We took a minute to visit the downtown as well. I had visions of Milwaukee being rough and tumble and, honestly, it was a really well maintained city. The new Miller Park is beautiful, if you’re in the area, take in a game. And, of course, make sure you see the Bronze Fonz.


Day 3: Visit Manitowoc, my hometown where I showed them my old house, the woods I played in, my school, where I went fishing with my dad, the candy shop with the amazing lunch, tour the submarine….

· Manitowoc has sadly gone downhill since I last visited and it was tough to see how rough it was. The park was overgrown, the city buildings in disrepair, etc.. I have friends that tried to warn me, but I pressed on with rose colored glasses….

· Lincoln High School is still amazing – looks as grand as it did when I attended.

· Beerntsens candy shop, the Maritime Museum and the Cobi sub were all still great

· Lake Michigan and the lighthouse remain, as always, amazing.







Day 4: Attend countries largest air show – EAA in Oshkosh:

· For multiple reasons I would not recommend going to his airshow if you are a casual visitor:

o Difficult to get information on what is happening each day

o Shuttles, trams and more trams. We spent more time on transportation trying to get to see planes than actually looking at anything

o The event is more of a pilot convention now – not like the old days where you parked, checked out planes on the tarmac and watched an air show. There are acres and acres and acres of tents. Hundreds of warbird planes but hardly any modern fighter jets

o The night airshow is only certain days, so plan appropriately

o The activities in the museum’s kid area are all broken and the kid attraction for the airshow shuts down at 3:00

o The airshow portion of the day was SLOW. It took a while for the next demonstration to start once the previous ones ended. Having been to a lot of airshows, this one has dropped to the bottom of the list.

§ I will say they had some bombing run demonstrations that looked cool, but I’ve seen these at smaller airshows as well. And, I didn’t have to sit and wait for hours for it to happen at other events.

o EXPENSIVE: This was $50 for adults – maybe to pay for the gas for the shuttle buses and trams….



Day 5: Visit countries largest water park – Noah’s Ark in Wisconsin Dells / Visit Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet

· Now this is a great time! A little pricy, but overall, this was a well maintained park with a lot of options, so I’ recommend

· After the park we fit in a trip to a cheese shop – probably the ONLY true thing that fit into the WI culture that we were there to experience. If you want great quality cheese – this is the place.




Day 6: A day in Madison, the capital city. I had only visited here once as a child and didn’t remember much.

· Madison is a cute town that sits in between two lakes. But, no swimming due to the algae and milfoil and it’s really quite small. For a family that isn’t going to spend time in the cute little shops there’s just a few things to do with a child.

· We did discover that there is a GREAT zoo here – it’s free and has a fantastic selection of animals (a rhino!). Highly recommend the Henry Vilas Zoo – make sure you leave a donation! (Thanks to my friend Amanda who pulled this out of her back pocket as I hadn’t planned anything for the day.)





I’m sure you see the multiple issues with the schedule above.


Rule 1 – Don’t over book yourself: I booked every minute and due to that, when we had to flex our hotel reservations we lost money. We also didn’t leave time to enjoy some of the local things to do.


Rule 2 – Do your research ahead of time: I have a friend that goes to EAA every year. I should have reached out to her in advance to find out how it had changed since the years I’d been there. I also could have asked my friends what had changed in Manitowoc to know that we shouldn’t have spent more than a ½ day there. I also should have figured out what to do with a 4 year old in Madison, you can only expect so much….


Rule 3 – Ensure your attend cultural activities: I thought I was doing this by booking all of these big ticket items. But, what we didn’t do was see the real Wisconsin… Brats, polka, supper clubs, a Brewers or Packers game, and just hanging out with friends. Luckily my friend Amanda brought some of that into our last day, but the opportunity was mostly lost.


Rule 4 – Travel accommodations: I went inexpensive on this trip. I booked the lower end hotels in order to save money and it was a real disappointment. When traveling with your family consider what is going to make the group as a whole comfortable. Yes, the checkbook liked the less expensive hotels, but we were stressed out by some of the places we stayed. And, because I booked us at activities across the state we didn’t get to settle in, constantly on the move. That’s hard with a kid, I didn’t pay attention to my travel partners and their needs.


On with the positive!!!

We connected with some old friends and refreshed our relationship. We are planning on visiting each other often in the coming years – you can bet we will take the time to slow down on these trips.


The first “family” trip is done. Lessons learned and that means the next trip will be even better.


My son learned about the phones I grew up with.... LOL - room service anyone??



My family did get to see where I grew up. They saw the rolling hills and lush trees, swam in Lake Michigan, toured the sub and played in the same waters where I spent my youth. Henry ran down the hills that I did as a child and saw the amazing high school I attended. We spent a ridiculous amount of money on cheese and had our picture taken with a big cow statue.


Those memories will be with us forever.


So will this picture of us with the cow….




Next up: What not to do when your song bird lunch still has its feathers


In order to ensure you are understood, or that you understand those in WI when you visit, I’ve added a few colloquialisms below:


Language: English (Wisconsin version)

“By” = this actually means you are going to go “TO” someone’s home

Stop and Go Lights = Stop Lights

Bubbler = Water fountain

Up Nort’ = General area above Lake Winnebago, could be all the way to Lake Superior, or just more north than middle of Wisconsin

TYME Machine = ATM

Or no? = A way of saying, “Did you?” or “Have you?” For instance, “Did you leave your house yet, or no?”

Soda = Pop or Soda Pop

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About Me

Megan Zavaglia - Travelin' Gal

- A self-proclaimed travel junkie with a passion for learning about people, cultures and environments around the world. 

- Writer of picture books, early readers and short stories.

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